Bonhams NY Presents Inaugural History of Science Sale


New York—The inaugural History of Science sale at Bonhams New York is set to be a resounding success. With rare books, manuscripts, scientific and technological instruments, photographs, prints and more ranging from the 16th-20th centuries, the sale features a wide range of exciting material slated to hit the auction block on October 22, including an exceptional Apple-1 computer in working condition; an original viewing window from the Manhattan Project's Hanford Site in Southern Oregon, employed in the production of plutonium for the atomic bomb known as Fat Man; an example of the first electric keyboard, and much more.

The auction opens with an excellent selection of globes, ranging from miniature and pocket globes, to desktop and educational globes, to planetary models. Notable lots include a fine example of Richard Cushee's New Pocket Globe, produced in 1731 (est. $8,000 - 12,000), and a beautiful pair of terrestrial globe and armillary sphere by the distinguished French globe maker Félix Delamarche in 1834 (est. $10,000 - 15,000).

The sale contains a fine section on astronomy, featuring not only books and manuscripts, but also telescopes, and beautiful examples of both planetary and deep-space photography. Of particular note is an extensive archive belonging to pioneering astronomer and telescope designer George Willis Ritchey (est. $450,000 - 550,000). Featuring hundreds of vintage photographs of celestial phenomena and telescopes, glass slides, a 27-inch cellular mirror & a 20-inch optical flat, manuscripts, blueprints, books, and much more, this archive is a treasure trove for researchers in the history of astronomy.

A section of Natural History is particularly strong, and includes several large format color plate books such as Nathaniel Wallich’s Plantae Asiaticae Rariores (est. $35,000 - 55,000), published between 1830 and 1832. Wallich is known for his outstanding work on the botany of India and was first European to study the plants of Nepal and of the countries south of the Himalayas. Wallich was commissioned by the East India Company to produce this sumptuously illustrated work, and this particular copy boasts a distinguished provenance, having come from the collection of the Director of the East India Company. Of special interest in this section is a most amusing letter penned by Charles Darwin (est. $20,000 - 30,000) discussing the details of the reproductive act amongst barnacles.

The largest section of the sale focuses on Medicine & Physiology, and includes important selections in anatomy, obstetrics, teratology, and surgery, as well Nobel Prize winning works in genetics. Of special interest is a first edition of William Withering's Account of the Foxglove ($10,000 - 20,000). Published in 1785, it presents his discovery of the efficacy of digitalis in the treatment of heart disease. Of particular note to scholars is an outstanding archive of manuscripts and original artwork by the French physiologist Antoine-Pierre-Ernest Bazin on the anatomy of the lungs and respiratory system (est. $10,000 - 15,000).

A section of Mathematics & Physics contains some especially rare items, including a beautifully crafted Helmholtz Sound Synthesizer, estimated at $20,000 - 30,000. An example of the first electric keyboard, it was crafted by Max Kohl after the design by physicist Hermann von Hemholtz. “Specimens of these are extremely rare, with only one similar but smaller apparatus located in a US institution that we know of. We have not seen another as large or finely made as this one,” says Cassandra Hatton, senior specialist who is in charge of this sale. 

The Apple-1 (est. $300,000 - 500,000), the first pre-assembled personal computer ever sold, will headline the technology section. Of the less than 5 operating units that have come up for public sale in the past 4 years, all have had damage, repairs or modifications from their original shipping condition. This example was booted up in August of 2014 by Apple-1 expert Corey Cohen, and is in excellent condition. Other important items is a first edition of the most important paper on the history of digital computing, Ada Lovelace's "Sketch of the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage," (est. $18,000 - 25,000); and a silk portrait of J.M. Jacquard (est. $20,000 - 30,000), executed in 1839 that used one of his own programmable Jacquard looms, the invention of which is regarded as the birth of the computer age.

The catalogue is now available online at

Image: Helmholtz Sound Synthesizer. Helmholtz, Hermann Von. 1821-1894. Chemnitz: Max Kohl, c. 1905. Est. $20,000 - $30,000.